Images of yarns and fiber from Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival last week in Jefferson. This fiber fest has everything a spinner or knitter could want: a fleece show and sale, two barns of vendors, three days of classes, and plenty of sheep. Oh, and inspiration!
Ever visit a place for the first time and find you’ve already been there?
I don’t mean literally, like you remembered you’d been there once before. I mean something more visceral: you find your true self has been waiting for you there, waiting for you to discover that you belong there. In fact, you have belonged there all your life–if only you had known enough to look.
This happened to a friend of mine when she visited California. She got off the plane, took one look and said, whoa: this is where I’m supposed to be. It hit her that hard, and she’s never really come back.
This is what happens to me every time I attend the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival (it’s this weekend: Sept 7, 8, and 9). As soon as I get there, I feel so me, it hurts. It’s the land. It’s the sheep. It’s the spinning. I know I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. There’s only one problem: the Sheep and Wool Fest isn’t a place, it’s an event. It’s over in a flash. Then it’s back to work. Back to urban life. Back. Back. Back.
Don’t’ get me wrong: I enjoy my life. It’s just impossible to live it outside a major urban area. My husband and I could give up a lot to live in a rural small town. We could say good bye to shopping malls and the Art Institute. We could do without 4G and Lake Michigan water. We could happily trade the Cubs for a lawn tractor. What we can’t give up is our jobs. Our jobs keep us tied to the city. By living one dream, you say good bye to another. Sometimes, you don’t even realize you’ve made a trade.
Nobody told us when we were young that pursuing our careers would tether us to city life. Frankly, this was the last thing on our minds anyway. The young think everything is possible. It would never have occurred to me that my choice of profession meant I couldn’t live in the country. If I wanted to live in a small town, why, I’d just move there. Simple as that. But it’s never that simple.
For decades the movement has been out of small towns into the cities. Who would have thought people would want to go back? Whenever my husband and I drive in the country, we are sure to pass by the remnants of old towns. My mother-in-law can pick out the crossroads of Wisconsin towns she once knew as a girl, now marked with just a few collapsed houses and a vine-wrapped chimney or two. It always makes me sad. Who lived there? What dream fell apart? I’d love to live out in the country, but where are the jobs? Even in thriving small towns, it’s hard to find a doctor or a clinic. What if you need a good lawyer? What if you need a gasket to stop your faucet from leaking?
With small town life out of reach, we thought of moving farther out. We scoured the map of Chicagoland: if you want to get out of town, I mean really out of town, you’re looking at an hour commute–at least! And we’re not big fans of long commutes. What a waste of time, resources, and spirit. So, we’re stuck, at least for now. I’m grateful to the city for the life it gives us; but, in a few days, I’ll be walking through the dusty barns, searching for the perfect fleece, feeling very much myself and as close to the horizon as I can get.
With the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival coming up this September, there’s more than enough to fantasize about: yarn, fleece, sheep, tractors, farm equipment, and plenty of 4H events. I’ve been a regular since 2004. In Chicago, quality yarns are easy to find. Try finding a fleece. A good one. At this festival, I always go home with a beaut. You’d think that as an avid hand spinner, I’d be fairly near to heaven, dreaming about the great fleece in my future. Nope. This year, I got just one thing on my mind: corn dogs.
Not just any corn dogs. I’m talking about hand-dipped corn dogs, made while you wait.
Oh, my stars. Have you ever had one of these?
My first was at last year’s festival. When the line at the lunch counter was just too long, I decided to take my chances at the food cart outside. That’s where I found these golden delicacies. Creamy cornishy hot doggie goodness. Like night and day from the stuff I’d had before–what I thought were corn dogs, now clearly understood as impostors. There ought to be a law.
Here in Chicago, food truck owners are struggling with the city council, which just passed an ordinance allowing them to operate, but they must remain beyond a 200-foot radius of any brick and mortar restaurant. The food truck owners complained that this made it nearly impossible for them to operate, especially downtown. At first I thought, hey, restaurant owners pick their sites with care. They have a right to operate without a food truck parked in front of their door, taking all their business. The food truck has the luxury of mobility. The brick and mortar restaurant does not.
I guess you could say that no lease owner is protected from competition. What prevents a competitor from moving in right next door? I rent an apartment. I have no control over who lives next to me or over me or across the hall. If I don’t like it, I can move.
But really, something about this perspective doesn’t seem quite right. Why is the burden on me to move? I’ve been here a long time. I’ve established a life here. Is it really fair to the restaurant owner who has worked hard to establish a clientele and a place in the neighborhood when a food truck parks outside its door?
My guess is that food truck owners don’t want to cause problems. They want to establish a tradition, as the Chicago Food Carts blog puts it, “that other great cities like New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco have had for decades.” My jones’n for a hand-dipped corn dog has made me think maybe it wouldn’t be half bad to ease the restriction.
From what I’ve read, corn dogs are rather pedestrian fare for food trucks these days. They probably wouldn’t even sell corn dogs. They’d probably sell corn duck sausage or corn fritters with chicken, spinach, and asiago. Well, if you can put it on a stick, I guess I’ll try it.
Here’s hoping Chicago can work this out. Don’t make me wait once a year for something so good.
If you work with fiber, you may very well enjoy the fiber show circuit that starts in Spring and lives on strong into late Fall. We all have our favorite festivals. I like to start the season every April with the Moonspinner’s fiber fest in Stephenson County, Illinois. Its down-to-earth approach reminds me of the practical side of my craft. Beautiful things can also be useful things. By the same turn, a practical life can also be a beautiful life.
On the other end of the season, my grand finale is always the Wisconsin Sheep and Wool Festival the second week in September. I book a hotel and stay all three days. By the third day, I’ve blown all my money and am contriving ways to make one last purchase. I always promise that I will not, under any circumstances, buy another fleece. Oh, sorrowful weakness. I usually have a fleece in hand by noon on Day 1.
Both of these shows favor spinners. You can certainly get yarn and felting supplies, among other things, but they offer a great variety of fleeces, roving, and equipment. For an urban spinner, these essentials are hard to come by. Between these two shows in mid June is a different sort of gathering, unique–at least in this area–because along with all things fibery, it showcases fiber artists.
The Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair is this June 22-24 in Grayslake, Illinois. Now in its sixth year, this fair is a knitter/crocheter/quilter/spinner/rug hooker/felter/folk craft fair. It has always made welcome the work of local fiber artists alongside all the vendors and classes. Because you need both, of course. The one feeds the other and back again. Artists need ways to connect with the community because good art cannot exist in a vacuum. It needs to be in dialogue with the community so that art and the viewer can exchange meaning. The fiber artist and the fiber enthusiast need to support one another in a synergistic relationship; both sides are equally important. The organizers of the Midwest Fiber & Folk Art Fair understand this, which is why I love to attend year after year.
And did I mention the live music?